Stormont’s falling turnout is the reason it is losing touch with wider public opinion

This is David McCann arguing that the current malaise in Northern Irish politics has its roots in the fact that no less than 160,000 people stopped voting after 1998. From  June 1998 to March 2011 electoral turnout dropped from 70% to 54.5%. Whilst the UUP and the SDLP lost a staggering 84,000 votes each, SF only picked up 35,000 and the DUP 52,000.

McCann’s thesis is that this disengagement is a prime cause of the subsequent drift of Stormont politics from the concerns of the broader NI population. Specifically…

…that drop in turnout is creating [a] silo system… and you’ve seen it in your audience tonight, people feel so disengaged with the process. Part of the probelm, from what I can see, is that people just think that Stormont just isn’t addressing their concerns. For example, 80% support integrated education, yet only 7% of kids go to integrated schools.

You can see an earlier piece on the subject over at

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  • jthree

    We’re still giving credence to this integrated education canard?

  • Mick Fealty

    Not the best example, but he’s trying to make a point that politicians ought to make some effort to figure where the changing demand is…

  • iluvni

    Until the utter and complete uselessness of that farce at Stormont really starts costing people money, where their inane decisions really hit the pockets of those who have to do some real work to earn their crust, there is little incentive for most people to come out and vote to get rid of those cosseted buffoons.
    Its currently just a costly distraction, but not yet damaging enough to force the turned off electorate to get out and change things. Maybe that day will come…

  • Submariner

    integrated education will not end sectarianism in NI. Schools of whatever brand do not teach sectarianism. Also come the next stormont elections the old battle cry of themuns will be the first minister if you dont come out and vote will ensure the Sheeple will turn out in the required numbers.

  • keano10

    “Sinn Fein ONLY picked up 35,000 & The DUP 52,000” ??

    Sorry Mick but that kind of destroys what I presume was the intention of this thread. The two minority parties on either side have witnessed a vote capitulation and the two current majority government partners have gained 87,000 votes between them. Bearing in mind that we have been a recession for the past 4/5 years that is nothing to be ashamed of either Sinn Fein or The DUP.

  • Mick Fealty

    The point David’s making is that in the atomisation of that moderate vote (and it happened very early on, which means it is no easy matter to get any proportion of it back) took a bunch of people out of the reckoning…

    That does not mean that people do not assent to Stormont as it stands. If you don’t vote, that is as good as an approval, albeit a lukewarm one. The implication, as I see it, is that the only way back is to find out what that moderate set wants and work to get it into the next programme for government.

    There’s been an awful lot of navel gazing in the middle…

  • keano10

    So tell me then Mick?

    Is Mike Nesbitt part of this ‘moderate’ Utopia that you yearn for? Bearing in mind some of his erratic and disgraceful statements of late?

    I think it was Paul Weller who once said ” The public gets what the public wants”. The bottom line is that the Public have long since ceased to want either the SDLP or UUP. The very recent actions of Messrs Nesbitt & Attwood are ample enough evidence of why.

    Nesbitt has turned the UUP into a right-wing reactionary party while Alisdair McDonnell has disappeared off the political radar in truly baffling style. This so-called’moderate’ dream ticket no longer exists Mick…

  • Mick Fealty

    No one is keano… It’s a non party pro analysis…

  • keano10

    Eamon McCann is a decent bloke Mick but he has stood for election himself and has been rejected. Why should the truth here be any different to anywhere else? The DUP/SF alliance may be flawed in some respects, but the reason they continue to be elected is because they provide stability. The public are much more astute than they are sometimes given credit for…

  • Mick Fealty

    No argument from me on any of that keano…

  • aquifer

    “We’re still giving credence to this integrated education canard?”

    A majority of parents support integrated schooling for their kids.

    Perhaps they should have a say in the matter.

  • Drumlins Rock

    NI Assembly 2011 – 55%
    Scottish Parliment.2011 – 50%
    Welsh Assembly 2011 – 42%
    London Mayor 2012 – 38%

    its called normaility, we don’t like it but do you want the record turnouts of the hungerstrike elections back?

  • Mick Fealty

    Hunger strike? 1998?

  • Barnshee

    “Until the utter and complete uselessness of that farce at Stormont really starts costing people money, where their inane decisions really hit the pockets of those who have to do some real work to earn their crust, there is little incentive for most people to come out and vote to get rid of those cosseted buffoons.”

    Beautifully and elegantly put .

    The armpits dole out the money allocated from London- they make a bit of a balls of it but WYF its only taxpayers money.
    A tightening of the screws financially over the next few years might help-otherwise ignore them as far as possible -at least it keeps them off the streets -out of the pubs and bookies.for a period

  • Drumlins Rock

    Mick, you know I meant high turnouts in general not just assembly election. But if you want to be pedantic the 1982 Assembly election had a 63% turnout.

    Major events increse turnout, negative events in ’82 and most of the history, but ’98 was also an exceptional event too.

    Thanks for ignoring my point altogether with some cheap dig, its nice to be back.

  • Zig70

    Stormont feels like such a cage. Massively over governed for the size of region, but little else would work in it’s place. A legacy of unionists inability to integrate or vanquish the opponent. It doesn’t sit with me and my suburban castle. I know very few politically interested people.

  • Mick Fealty

    I wasn’t ignoring it, I was curious that you went back to a negative moment (and it was for U’s in FST) rather than a positive one.

  • Ruarai

    Where’s the evidence that NI’s non-voters are moderates?

    What is a moderate?

  • Brian Walker

    The problems are surely deeper than falling turnout. Why should NI be different from anywhere else? Why vote when it makes little difference? Why vote when so many people believe any old unionist/nationalist will do and they don’t notice the nice party distinctions? Why vote indeed when stability has been achieved?

    So power sharing is stable. What next? It’s depressing to realise that after all the decades of upheaval, this government will be as difficult to change as was the old Stormont unionist monopoly, although admittedly broad- based and set in a radically different constitutional framework.

    I’m now convinced that either under pressure or willingly, the DUP and Sinn Fein will agree to a formal opposition with amended standing orders and funding and therefore the opportunity of forming an alternative government. This should happen well in advance of the next election, now deferred to 2016.

    Are the SDLP and the fragmenting Ulster Unionists up to it or has defeatism sapped their will and intelligence completely? They will have to earn the right to such a big move and get over the fact that the multiparty format has morphed into two party dominance. Unlike a multi-ethnic or chronically class- divided states there has not been enough to differentiate two parties with their present characters inside each bloc . But as I keep saying, if the so called centre parties cannot develop an effective role even now in an 108 seat Assembly under STV, they deserve obliteration. They have an extra year to plan and the Assembly will not stay this size forever. This is the answer to the taunting question : “what are you for?” an opposition coalition agreement and joint programme or at least complementary manifestos is what they are “for” along with the Alliance party – or nothing.

    A multiparty Assembly can influence political direction if they put their minds to it. If the so-called centre were to work towards their own shadow coalition they could create a viable focus for change. For that to happen, they would have to turn away from mini-me and stop looking over their shoulder..

    The wider public must contribute. An almost overwhelming sense of disappointment and cynicism drifts up from a jaded media and blogs such as this. And yes there is a shortage of talent, a degree of institutional corruption and an amazing, alienating air of pompous entitlement.

    The cynicism underlines the fact that precious few of the professional elites and opinion formers actually support the dominant parties under the guise of deploring sectarianism and the parties return the compliment. This gap was one factor that did for the old Stormont; they took the jobs but did not reward the patrons with emotional loyalty. Disastrously an early warning system for disaster was absent in spite of the illusion of stability ,

    Today the enormous quangocracy is constrained by government patronage and gelded by apolitical analyses. Business relying on the public sector is similarly hobbled by the hope of government contracts or support.

    The result is a dearth of intelligent political strategic debate and ministers and MLAs thrown back on their own supporters with only the tradition of opposition to sustain them. Perhaps complacency has also led them to lose touch with grass roots on the DUP side more than on the republican but I leave that for those closer to the scene to judge. .

    It is barely noticed outside, but these parties are alarming isolated, and not only from Stalinist choice. Yet the responsibilities of government and growing distance from the Troubles are slowly changing their characters. They need encouragement and engagement to develop faster.

    If the minor parties fail to grab the chance of forming some sort of alliance and campaign jointly for an opposition, the only other recourse can come from outside in the form of pressure from the two governments. But given the scale of their other problems this is unlikely to happen for a Northern Ireland in the doldrums but not in crisis for a long time to come. The days of making demands on ” the British Prime Minister ” are over for good.

    So guys, who’s up for writing the alternative programme for government, apart from the admirable Robin Wilson?

  • Ruarai

    So guys, who’s up for writing the alternative programme for government, apart from the admirable Robin Wilson?

    Brian, let’s give it a whirl. Mick/Pete,CS can one of you bullet point the key leavers available to the administrators. I’m not aware of any significant powers worth a damn so clarifying the available powers (at least for me) is a key starter…

  • Sp12

    “A majority of parents support integrated schooling for their kids.
    Perhaps they should have a say in the matter.”

    Is there someone standing over the shoulder preventing them exercising choice when they fill in their forms every February?
    Or are you simply conflating the idea of ‘supporting’ integrated education with actually wanting to avail of it?

  • Mick Fealty

    Here’s a template and an open document… Let’s get weaving and see where it goes:

  • Chris Donnelly

    I agree with a lot of what Brian Walker says above, but there are a number of other factors at play.

    On the decline in the numbers voting post-GFA, it is worth noting the role played in this of the stringent electoral registration procedures that came into play in the aftermath of the Agreement.

    Tens of thousands were made to jump through hoops just to get registered. Some did, others didn’t bother and got into the non-voting habit which, as evidence suggests from other Western democracies, is a hard habit to break.

    Those blaming SF and the DUP are generally people hostile to those parties. Though I don’t disagree with much of Brian’s analysis, the truth is that there is no cross community middle ground consensus and no evidence exists to suggest that there are political parties interested in devising such a platform nor an electorate willing to endorse parties wedded to such a stance.

    Those seeking to construct arguments on the basis of what media polling suggests people want, instead of what elections results tell us, have long been left disappointed in this society.

    I do think it is possible for an alternative axis to be developed, but that would require a nationalist and a unionist party willing to agree a shared platform distinct from that being articulated by SF and the DUP.

    That is possible, but the teams- and players- currently available don’t inspire confidence.

    The SDLP is in a dreadful state at present, unable to capitalise on any of Sinn Fein’s mistakes (just look at the mess they’re now in over the SPAD Bill), whilst the UUP under Nesbitt have sought to blur the lines between the UUP and DUP (think Unionist Forum, Maze opposition and recent Stormont faux outrage at, of all things, the teaching notes accompanying the Carnegie-medal winning novel, Bog Child.)

    Only Alliance have made noise suggesting a differing platform to SF and the DUP, and I expect they will have solidified an electoral base within the former soft unionist UUP voting constituency in the suburban Belfast districts of the predominantly unionist crescent stretching from East Antrim around to North Down.

    The SF-DUP era will pass, but it’s going to take a game changer along the lines of the rise of a northern Fianna Fail to shake the political and electoral consensus which has SF and the DUP comfortably masters of the Big House.

  • Mick Fealty


    I’m sorry if my short answers came across as roughly dismissive. You made a point that’s valid enough, and Brian builds on it with an argument I cannot quibble.

    In the core of what David’s saying I see two important elements:

    – Our political parties, particularly (though not exclusively) the three non incumbent should (as Brian suggests) pay more attention to what people want, and find the means to represent this as actionable in government (this is particularly good for you if this sets you at odds with others).

    – More importantly, if the UUP and SDP are ever going to come back again you MUST do something (ANYTHING) about voter turnout.


    Fair question. Let me put it slightly more accurately and call them the possibly less immoderate parties than the current incumbents, because we know now where leadership under this particular partnership [emphasis] in OFMdFM leads: ie, back to the streets.

    It is hard for a leopard to change its spots. In reprocessing narrowcast politics of their own base, the DUP and Sinn Fein are not growing the shadow of any kind of sustainable future.

    Others sit around and criticise them (under their breath) for their limitations, whilst ignoring the fact they can change the situation if they get out of their armchairs and in the Ghandhi cliche, ‘be the change’ themselves.

    Complaining that the system, the media, journalists as a class is holding them back is lame duck politics.

  • Mick Fealty

    I would endorse most of that Chris. ONe thing people get wrong in their criticism of SF and the DUP is the idea that they are power hungry. Hello? This is what makes democracy.

    Without power, “ya don’t got nuttin…” What’s killing the settlement is NOT the sins of those with power, but the fear the others have of taking it (and with it the criticism).

    For me that’s the real power subtext to the SDLP’s SPAD Bill debacle.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Chris, the electoral register went UP 9.2 % between the 2007 & 2011 elections, I’m not sure how foreign nationals would impact on that figure.

    Those not voting are an extremely diverse group, from what I see they are more working class than middle class, and quite hardline, the policies needed to get them voting on both side might not be to the general taste!

  • Delphin

    I hope you political experts don’t mind me butting in on your game but I would have 2 comments/questions
    (1) voter turn out has been in decline in most western democracies why should NI be any different
    (2) NI is simply too small to have effective self government. Routine running of departments is within the administration’s grasp, but they cannot justify the resources for effective strategic planning. The obvious answer to reduce Stormont to council status and let government come from London, Dublin or even Edinburgh. (Yes I know – this is not going to happen)

  • cynic2

    To bother to vote one must be inspired. With this lot in power – all of them – what inspiration is there?

    The Executive is a shambles. Ministers come together mainly to argue and fight over sectarian slithers of policy. There is drift and indecision. After almost 20 years after the GFA we have a ‘shared futures’ strategy. Whoopee, we’re all supposed to cry.. Except it skims over core issues like integrated education and sets aspirational targets that will undoubtedly be missed – more waffle inflated by hot air.

    The Departments tend to function like Laagers to be defended at all costs. And inside those Ministers and their SpAds pursue their own party and personal lines from what sports get funding and what do not to where services will be based or where extra flag poles can be inflicted on us all.Quangos flourish to provide the Minister with the opportunity to look tough by sacking supposed failing bosses (always outside the Civil Service) and appointing their own and often discriminatory choices as the courts have been forced to point out

    What does the Assembly itself actually do?. Was it just 5 Bills passed? Every time we see ‘debates’ on TV the wide shots are restricted so we aren’t continually made aware that there are only about 10% of them there, clustered in small huddles around their speakers to give an impression of numbers on camera and catch a glimmer of TV magic – at least among those relatives watching while the rest of us switch quickly away. Their main achievement this year has been to award their Councillor Colleagues a £30000 bung for not bothering to get re-elected in the name of ‘reform’. Still, that will make way for new blood – after all most of our MLAs are at an age where their children need employment and there is precious little else about and with their economic policies, little prospect.of a bright economic future.

    The CIvil Service (as outdated and introverted as ever) rules the roost. The most trivial decisions (eg releasing information on an uncontroversial FOI request or a decision on street lighting in Buckna) are shunted up to Ministers. Their boxes are stuffed with rubbish to give the impression of action and decision where there is none and lock them into a system where they cannot hold officials to account for shockingly bad performance.

    And the Public Sector in NI is such a huge % of GDP that Ministers and Parties and enslaved to it. Civil Service efficiencies – cant have that the Unions and all those civil service voters wont like it. Cutting Civil Service pay which job for job now exceeds the private sector? Nope…we will have Ministers on the picket lines opposing that. Changes in benefits? Not in NI says Marty without explaining how he will fund this protective bung to voters or how the books will be balanced. Never mind, We can always blame the evil Brits.

    And on that point when have you ever heard a NI Minister talking about the core economic problems we face and how they will address them. I cannot remember any. They will of course try to get more jobs in (and thats a great thing) but to what purpose? What is the big picture? Whats the economic plan to unpick the basket case economy? Nope. No ideas. No plans. Just a common ideology of milking the UK subsidy cow for the maximum they can get and holding out on reform for as long as possible. Oh yes….and a cut in corporation tax which now seems to be the sole agreed economic policy in the Executive, though sadly not in the Treasury

    Some say in earlier posts here that there is light in the middle of this mess. Alliance may blossom from the centre and create a bright new dawn. Well, where is the evidence for that?

    Let’s look at the flegs dispute. Now to be honest I agree that there are far too many flegs flying in NI and that we should try and negotiate all this away. But the handling of this by Alliance was cack handed and precipitated a crisis that did huge damage in terms of community relations, the economy and our international image.

    I am still not convinced that, in the real tradition of City Hall politics, there isn’t a sordid little deal under the counter involving some patronage or other benefit as part of the ‘package’. Thats the way local politics works in Belfast . But let’s be generous and accept there wasn’t.Even then, to not realise the impact this decision would have on the streets show a total disconnect from real life. yet they just stumbled into it. Blinded by their own hubris and, perhaps, the prospect of all those Catholic votes.

    And then in the middle of it all, with cars burning on the streets and trade delegations walking away, we had the Party Leader sitting on TV wringing his hands about how he had called the PM and he wouldn’t take his call and then he had called the Secretary of State bit got only platitudes. Perhaps the SOS told him what the rest of us were thinking. You are the bloody Justice Minister, get on with it.

    I don’t know about you but that entire performance does not inspire me as a party ready to lead us to a bright tomorrow. Up to now I have voted Alliance – but no more. Not because of the principle of the flegs decision but because it was managed in such a destructive and politically incompetent way and exposed the appalling quality of the party leadership.

    So I will join those opting out because, put simply, I see no future for the Executive and nothing worth voting for. And you know, maybe that’s not a bad thing in the long term. Perhaps this while system, is simply incapable of reform, Incapable of moving on and needs a total collapse in political legitimacy to force change. The sad thing is that I doubt we have the time for that

  • Brian Walker

    Chris Donnelly points out the absence of a cross community vote. Indeed but we have to start somewhere and build an opposition programme that could in time generate it. The potential is just about detectable in those polls but it needs, you know, real competent politics to test it out.:

    1. I thought I’d said enough in my previous comment but I should have added the crucial element of a “ voluntary” coalition to the list and the replacement of the communal designations by a weighed majority. Brief though it was, the power sharing executive of 1974 showed that genuine cross community cooperation was possible even in the heat of “struggle” and that identity need not be the overwhelming determinant. The huge pressure of the war on two fronts that brought it down is absent today. The need to complete paramilitary disarmament which bedevilled Trimble and Mallon In the first post 98 Executive has also gone away.

    2.Civil society in the shape of the media, academe, business and unions need to start discussing policy and political reform systematically to a coherent agenda. The key elements are familiar enough but cry out to be developed. Political reform in the shape of a voluntary coalition and an opposition ; grown-up fiscal consolidation that also seeks to reduce the marginal costs of separate development ; actively seeking pubic consent to take forward politically the integrationist ideas which are now on the agenda particularly in education but also marginally in housing ; closing the alarming communication gap with poor communities the flags riots exposed ( through NI is not alone there);: economic development within and degrees of north-south harmonisation, currently moribund.

    3.Basic information would be help. We ( I certainly ) am ignorant of how government actually trickles down despite a host of separate funds and transmission mechanisms. The Executive is hopelessly behind the times with transparency and to a great extent the media live with it.

    4. Far less concentration on identity themes which get nowhere. The fact that the Cardiff meeting was convened by the PSNI and not the Executive was an embarrassing abdication of responsibility.

    5. It would also be wise not to base too many arguments on whatever news agenda is current. We should stand back a bit

    6. As I’ve said before dealing with the past should be decoupled with dealing with the present and future. It’s; not so much that the past is divisive as a distraction. It is not true that sorting out the pressures on the streets depends on “solving ” the past. .

    After the Troubles we all sat and waited for nirvana to happen ( OK you didn’t and oh how wise you were). Many were content when the DUP and SF took over the leading roles but many others were disheartened including ( I guess ) most of the middle class who turned off if indeed they were ever turned on ( We could do with detailed evidence of opinion shifts incidentally) But get over it. Even the DUP and SF are changing and should be given some credit for it. It’s not all hopeless, you know. Some leadership, energy and ideas allied to professional political competence would go a long way.

  • Mick Fealty


    Good stuff, but Chris is right to point out that we are, where we are rather than the place that some of us might like to be.

    Outside the Alliance party, and Al in his halcyon days after the 05 South Belfast Westminster, no one else has really tried to ‘fire up’ that ground. As one tweeter put in on BBC Question Time the other night, “we’ve had 15 years of point scoring…”

    As DR points out that people are diverse in their views. But what he doesn’t say is that his party (the UUP) has that problem/strength…

    The DUP would like to press into territory that (within unionism) they simply cannot with the personal history and religious commitments of their top table. I should have Junior’s near farcical performance on BBCQT ( later today.

    On turnout, I agree that the normalisation narrative looks compelling. But, before you throw it in the trash can, think clearly about the WHO of who’s not voting.

    As for reforms, that would be a political matter. It won’t happen on this watch. But it might happen on the next. After three elections in which the needle has barely shifted people have come to think this is all there is.

    They MIGHT be right. But the point is you can only effect a change as a voter if you are being offered one by a political with both the prospects and the appetite for the power to make that change.

    On integrated education, David’s point is a simple one. The party currently in charge is not ambitious to bring that about. This stuff about parent power is only a libertarian talking point if there is no actual policy in place to enable resources shift towards that model.

  • socaire

    In spite of all the protestations – from all quarters – the constitutional question will have to be settled before we become the new Isle of Manannan. Either the natives will be assimilated into the ‘don’t care’ corral with the unicorns or the others will decide that as long as there’s peace and prosperity, then a UI is ok. But the long term English plan is to let things drift (with an odd flare-up) until boredom settles the question one way or another. In one way Direct Rule from England showed up the paucity of local talent. We all know and will fight for what we’re agin but what are we for? This is just playing at government till a new generation takes over or the English run out of time and money

  • cynic2

    Perhaps the best thing the English might do is a straight offer – get on with it or we start to close off the money tap

    They and the Irish have been far too indulgent. Time for the real world to intrude

  • Mick Fealty


    That’s certainly one way of putting it. Though it does not allow for much agency between now and ‘then’. Whenever then may be.

    The establishment of local authorities (and counties) in Ireland (Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898) could also be filed under “killing Home Rule by kindness”.

    It failed to hold most of Ireland into the Union, just as Republicans have failed to haul Northern Ireland out. Might be useful to consider both of those failures in tandem.

  • Brian Walker

    “We are where we are” yes but where are we? We have to stop seeking alibis for inertia among voters. In any case there will be little change unless we look deeper than voting patterns to opinion shifts, wants and needs.

    Voters decide who forms the government? Emphatically not. The system has created an oligarchy of the tiny elites who are the party political activists. Change at best may come dropping slow. This is what the DUP in particular believes and they may be right. But we have a short term need to provide better government.

    An individual minister deciding policy? Absurd. Collective responsibility needs further strengthening, which means more agreement on policy.

    In the medium term contingencies are needed to forestall the threat to stability of the numbers game which I believe is still potent. SF waiting calmly for what they believe is inevitable and the DUP seeking comfort in an “Northern Irish “ identity isn’t good enough.

    Outside politics we need fewer observers and critics and more planners, policy makers and active camapaigners for better government. We are oversophisticated with regard to the cultural/historical arguments ( easy because they involve no taking of responsibility) and babes in arms over the tough choices of modern government.

  • Delphin

    Who votes and who does not?
    In my view voters tend to be people that care enough to turn out, so the politically active tend to drag the apathetic rump in the direction they what to go. This appears to work in normal democracies. Conventional wisdom would say that globalisation of the world economy and thus the decrease in the influence an individual nation state, has resulted in increased voter apathy.
    NI is different, the majority of the politically active and thus voters are evangelical Christians and militant republicans. An administration so formed will pull in completely different directions and achieve little. The problem is to convince us normal folk that there is something worth voting for.

  • Mick Fealty

    Can I just say (before I come back to Brian) we have a start on the alternative programme for government plan:

    I want to make some headway before launching off the top of Slugger…

  • sonofstrongbow

    The price of political power in a democracy is paid when politicians fail. When you crash and burn out you go. No such penalty exists in NI.

    The incumbents in Stormont are there by virtue of tribal voting. No amount of incompetence will result in any party being shown the door.

    Two words illustrate this: Ruane and Education. To that you can add Poots and Social Care if you wish.

    As mere administrators, as opposed to (voter challengeable) policy promotors they, thankfully, can do little damage; aside from raising community tensions that flow from their Green/Orange shenanigans.

    They do not have fiscal authority (thank God) and for those, like me, who have secure income streams, private health care and do not live in ‘contested’ areas etc (i.e little day to day contact with state services) serve, at best, only to provide a source of amusement at their goings on, and at worst a minor irritant when having to negotiate the residual debris of their activities.

    Why on earth would I be bothered to vote.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Stormont losing touch is why there’s a falling turnout, the thread title is cart before horse logic. Stormont cannot make people vote, cannot rig elections, cannot “touch up” democracy, if people want change they should vote for it.

    People are looking for the media demagogues to try to alter things and at the end of the day their biggest success is Mike Nesbit, the one journalist here who like him or not actually has the work ethic to actually “be in touch” to get himself elected, with all due respect to Ferghal McKinney and Eammon McCann.

    The fact that cart by horse logic that Stormont must change the electorate to change Stormont, shows an out of touchiness with basic causal logical determinism.

  • Coll Ciotach

    This is a spectacularly weak analysis. For example I would approve of people having the option of an “integrated” education, but I would not send my children. Which means I am one of the 80% which supports its provision and one of the 93% which would not avail of its services.

    The falling numbers is more to do with an acceptance of the status quo – either through resign and apathy or from contentment. But not necessarily disengagement.

    Who is this David McCann anyway that he gets his opinion promoted? Is it because he seems to subscribe to the integrated education promotion society?

  • Mick Fealty

    Nope. just a new voice. should I have rejected him on that basis? 😉 the impressive thing was the proportion 80/7 although I absolutely accept your qualifier on the .crudeness of the extrapolation.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Again Mick, this is a market issue … The people steer the integrated education market and Stormont, Stormont does not steer the integrated market and the people.

    Do you really think Stormont needs to resort to Orwellian methods of Thought Control to prevent society’s cognitive dissidence around integrated education? Or perhaps the equally bizarre tithes and rescuncy method and its cognitive dissidence that sectarianism was fundamentally wrong but must be used to prevent the other side being sectarian.

  • Mick Fealty

    Great thread guys! One thing though. Can we take it – for the sake of this particular argument – that I am one of the 20% who does not want more integrated education?

    David’s example is becoming a bit of a distraction from the main point, which is (as I read it) “that people just think that Stormont just isn’t addressing their concerns”.

  • Coll Ciotach

    Well maybe they are – and there is the rub. The problem being that those who care the most vote, and those who don’t don’t? So SF are expressing their constituency and the DUP theirs. The fact that the constituencies do not agree means that their reps also disagree and thus little movement? It is a bit idiotic in my opinion to expect anything else. The only way this will change is that an unexpected event occurs which makes it in the overriding interest of either or both sides to move. And that is not likely to happen is it?

    So the existing settlement, is doing what it was designed to do – provide comfort for both sides in that neither can move without the others say so. A recipe for stasis but a comfort blanket for all which is at times a hair shirt – but we can live with that level of comfort/discomfort.

  • Coll Ciotach

    You picked a complete randomer to express an issue you thought worth raising Mick ? Really? – I suppose I have to accept that.

  • ‘David’s example is becoming a bit of a distraction from the main point, which is (as I read it) “that people just think that Stormont just isn’t addressing their concerns”.’

    Agreed, but is that because of the institutional set up or because we live in straightened times and this could be the same call across much of the developed world?

    I won’t get involved in David’s complaint re integrated education, I think Coll Ciotach hit the nail on the head there and to be fair, the discussion on that particular policy is a distraction to the thread in general.

    ‘So the existing settlement, is doing what it was designed to do – provide comfort for both sides in that neither can move without the others say so. A recipe for stasis but a comfort blanket for all which is at times a hair shirt – but we can live with that level of comfort/discomfort.’

    How very true, the system is actually doing what the vast majority of voters want and has done since the SDLP and UUP were in charge. Essentially, it’s a Mexican stand off, and whilst it is annoying that Movement in some areas is glacier, to be fair, the only people it really annoys is the chattering classes who have an idea of what they want this place to be, if only dem dar pesky pols and voters would listen to them who know theyre right.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Well said footballclichés, we have to realise that both British and Irish democracy like many other European democracies evolved from positions of national government without direct partisanship, that partisanship had arisen through civil war.

    Peace is too big a prize to sacrifice to speed up a more interesting politics.

  • FP, your point on partisanship is the kicker and it neatly ties in with FJH’s points on one side normally winning and thus the other side, the defeated if you will, assimilate (too strong a term perhaps but you know what I’m driving at) into their way of thinking etc.

    Brian mentioned something above:

    ‘As I’ve said before dealing with the past should be decoupled with dealing with the present and future. It’s; not so much that the past is divisive as a distraction.’

    Best of luck with that I think. Honestly, there’s a difference between what you want and what you’ll get. ALL of the major political organisations in the North were created due to the misdeeds of the past, to request that we try and decouple the past from the present and future is deluded as the corporate memory and raison d’être’s of these organisations usually come crashing through the walls of any siloised ministry they occupy and the decisions they make.

    We’ve got peace, we’ve got a regional assembly with fairly limited powers, the purse strings are tightened from London with little imput from Belfast and two communities that want very different outcomes, in all honesty, what the hell did people expect we would have?

  • Mick Fealty


    Well, you can’t hack the man, but you can hack what he says… 🙂

  • cynic2

    Parental choice in Education only goes so far. For example, should an Islamic Fundamentalist who believes in jihad against everything unislamic be permitted (and I use that word advisedly) to send their Children to a Madrassa preaching that philosophy? What about a sect that believes that women are only there to support the needs of men and that genital mutilation for females is a prerequisite of their faith? That believes in witchcraft? That mankind was created by benign aliens from another planet who monitor the earth from a ship hidden behind the moon? Creationists? What about the poor old humanists and atheists who never get a look in at all and are forced to send their children to be taught what they believe to be arrant nonsense.

    Where does this stop? And in the special circumstances of NI to what extent should the state permit ANY religious teaching in the schools it funds.If people want to fill their children’s heads with some of this nonsense let them do it at their church or temple or at home.

  • cynic2

    “David’s example is becoming a bit of a distraction from the main point, which is (as I read it) “that people just think that Stormont just isn’t addressing their concerns”.

    I would go further – it isn’t really addressing anything and what little it does is done badly

  • FuturePhysicist

    Cynic, on what basis does a handful of secularists dictate the affairs of a vast majority of non-secularists, or vice versa if the balance is that way. Both have the freedom to evangelise their case. You mentioned trying to prevent an Islamic fundamentalist from sending their child to Madrasa, and stop general mutilation … How do you suppose how to do that from an integrated school? What about the options outside the school? Outlaw freedom of travel? Have a court injunction forcing the parent to compile? Put the child into social services? Invade Madrasa? In the end it comes down to using your choice and maybe the option of violence to stop their choices.

    What about the witchcraft believers or creationists or exo-spermists because they believe in something the non-believers don’t or that the humanists don’t. No two people are going to believe the same thing, so inevitably everyone you meet has a decent probability of belief in something you disagree with. We have people who act like the past doesn’t matter no matter how long ago it was, we have people who believe they can “will” things beyond their control like their supported football team to score a goal, or an election result, or the ability to control ‘fundies’ through non-violence and an alternative education system … maybe under chaos theory they might actually be the butterfly when the situation is right … no matter how you educate a child delusions are not going to go away, and you just have to live with other people’s. As a scientist I don’t have to enforce my beliefs, nature does it for me, and if nature doesn’t, then my beliefs have been challenged in a context and proven wrong, but not every non-science is evidence based, particularly the humanities, or indeed theoretical science.

    I’m sure there are plenty of other subjects people would nitpick at after religion, such as the humanities/sciences balance, such as school ethos, such as political beliefs of teachers. These are dictated by a combination of teachers, parents and directors at the coalface, unless you fit into one these groups you have no control over what a child is exposed to learn.

    You can’t always get what you want and you won’t always want what you get

  • Mick Fealty

  • aquifer

    Most systems of proportional representation ensure that the extremes are represented, but provide limited incentive to chose compromise candidates to prevent extremists getting in. Robin Wilson and others have noted that Westminster first past the post elections sometimes present a situation where you know someone from the ‘other side’ will get in, but you still have the chance to vote for the less extreme one, affecting the overall makeup of a parliament.

    With our particular and odd version of PRSTV the opposite happens in later stages of the count, where someone who has not expressed any preference, and none for an extreme candidate, due to concerns about, say, promoting violence, has their vote grossed up to count towards the quota of extreme candidates.
    1 First preference votes are counted
    2 Later preference votes are transferred according to the ratios of preference expressed for other parties, whether or not a later preference was expressed. Most expressed transfer preferences are intra sectarian bloc, including votes for extreme parties. The votes of people who expressed preferences are transferred/ added to candidate totals. So far fair enough.
    Then the votes of the people who expressed no preference are ‘grossed up’ so that their votes count equally, but they are grossed up to allocate extra votes to people they did not wish to vote for. e.g. Because some SDLP voters give SF a preference, the system assumes they all would if they had bothered to express a preference.

    It is a proportional system, but a system that discounts the views of people with ethical objections to voting for extremists.

    How much unfair advantage has this given to SFDUP over the years?

    Why not a more fully proportional system with regional top-ups? MLAs have more to do than to think of the particular problems of Ballygobackwards.

  • sbelfastunionist

    Mick, firstly great post which has brought out a lot of really interesting points in debate.I’m interesting on building on the points made about comparisions with elsewhere. Drumlins Rock made the point that current voting figures here may be low based on our past elections but aren’t low relative to other places. Therefore, the question has to be asked whether addressing the issue of turnout has to be based on the issues facing all parliamentary democracies rather than necessarily on issues arising from our community divisions. If I was really stretching it, I might say it is a sign of normalising politics that a big chunk of the electorate will never be interested and require exceptional circumstances to vote.

    On a similar theme, many points raised about the Assembly are raised about other legislatures. Are they based on reality, a lack of understanding or deliberate misunderstanding? For instance, the comment made above about the Assembly chamber often being empty is no different to Westminster. Not all debates are headliners and elected reps will focus on chamber business relevant to their own constituencies, committee, party or personal interests. To expect a full Chamber on high hedges legislation is unreasonable. I do agree that it is depressing that parties are often quicker to take issues like flags, the past or victims to the floor of the Assembly than other issues. However, I have been encouraged by recent Assembly sessions on welfare reform, care home closures, and even abortion (I know others won’t agree) when I did think the Assembly seemed like a proper legislature. It is also interesting that complaints made about the delay in bringing legislation and poor use of debating time etc have been raised at Westminster too. Is it a common problem of coalitions, in which case I don’t know how you will adequately address it here?

    Finally, on a post which I did not intend to be so long, I’m interested in whether people think having an opposition is really the silver bullet people expect. I can see many advantages in it but I can’t see that it will necessarily address turnout. It doesn’t prevent lower turnout at Westminster. A thought that has occurred to me recently is that another parliamentary reform required at the Assembly, beyond just opposition, is weakening party control and increasing backbench power. When is the last time either of the big two parties had a free vote on anything, even on things where it would be the norm elsewhere eg in Scotland and Westminster the vote to elect a Speaker would never be whipped. Perhaps if Committee chairs were elected by secret ballot across the Assembly (even if the party allocation was agreed) it would force MLAs to see the merit of constructive working with others rather than being tied slavishly to the party line. Mind you, I don’t expect it ever to happen.

  • David McCann

    I don’t normally comment on blog posts but I just want to elaborate abit on what I meant in giving that contribution on the Nolan Show.

    The point I was making (remember I had about 90 secs to make it) was that general voter decline is due largely to a general paralysis in Stormont. I cited Education which in hindsight I should have focused on 11plus reform rather than integrated education as an example of lack of progress on issues.

    Turnout in NI elections has steadily been going down and it’s not due to normalisation of politics here as the 1973 assembly election had a turnout of 56%. The key debate I was looking to kick start is why are 160k plus not voting anymore?

    My view is Stormont govt is not really working. There are other views out there and I do not believe that 1) My thesis is the only valid one or 2) that there is any silver bullet.

    However if turnout continues to fall, we are only going to get more decisions like Flags etc. So for the health of politics in NI this is something that all of us need to start putting some thought into.

    Let the debate begin!

  • FuturePhysicist

    Aquifer, the same system is applied to the Republic and up until recently it did the Shinners no favours. At the end of the day, some SDLP voters might transfer to SF, but those who don’t like SF including some other SDLP voters can transfer to everybody but SF. It is actually non-sensical to believe that the system is gerrymandered towards SF, and the DUP, when Newry & Armagh a SF seat and North Antrim a DUP seat would actually be seven seaters if proportionality was considered and it would come at expense of South Belfast and East ‘Londonderry’. If you introduced AV chances are you’d get is probably the SDLP losing Dallat and McDevitt but gaining O’Loan and O’Hanlon. And that would be the net effect.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Indeed Constituencies where non-SFers had put in the SDLP, would be ones replaced by ones where SF puts in the SDLP.

  • keano10

    Cynic 2,

    Once again you make the age old mistake of blaming religous indoctrination as a pivotal reason for the conflict here. Most of The Republicans that have been friends of mine over many years have absolutely no time for The Catholic Church whatsoever. Most of them no longer regard themselves as Catholics at all. Their conflict was always purely political and not sectarian. I think it has differred to a large degree on The Loyalist side where there has been an inherent hatred of the other community primarily on overtly religous bias.

    I hate the fact that Religon is continuously and wrongly used as the so-called differential between the respective communities. As far as myself and many other Irish Republicans are concerned, the Catholic Church can go to hell. Our conflict was always based on political aspiration and Nationality. Religon is purely for the nutters. It always was…

  • cynic2


    You have it completely wrong. I welcome people (indeed Children) from all political family backgrounds. My point is simple. Our Children are all the same. They have the same genetic material and a shared history (albeit with different perspectives). What religion does however is give those who would create and invent real differences a hook on which to hang it. Thats why I want it out.

    Oh yes ….and because its all nonsense and if young minds are to be polluted with fairy stories of a big guy in the sky will will make everything right and invented everything in 7 days in 4004BC I don’t think the state should be spreading the nonsense. let them get that guff at home. Let them get that at home form their parents PP r Free P Minister

  • cynic2

    Future Physicist

    Read the whole post and my later comments. It is all nonsense and I think you are talking points a little out of context. I commented on the other beliefs because some here and many in our community would demand that religion must be taught in school. Fine …but if you accept that in an increasingly multicultural Norn Iron or Ireland which religions do you cover? And what about when some of those religions preach hate of the others – and its not necessary Islamic preachers here – read what the bible says about non believers for a start

  • latcheeco

    A thread on why the Pushmepullyou can’t run? Ho hum.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Different cultured children will have different cultured parents, I know people from an Islamic background who have chosen to send their children to a Catholic school. A doctor friend of mine told me of people who go into medicine who don’t even believe in evolution, who came from an integrated sector that taught the subject. Even outside of parental demand there is parental control.

  • cynic2

    Parental control is a great idea until they reach about 12!!!!

    But forgive me, that is still not the point. I don’t want them indoctrinated – they will get that at home anyway – but I do want to see a framework of education that is free from sectarian overtones and that at least exposes them to a range of ideas so that, as they develop, they can make their own minds up, having grown up alongside fellow citizens who they can see don’t really keep coal in the bath, eat babies, have cloven hooves or worship the Pope as a demi-god. Heaven forfend some of them might even become friends

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    “Once again you make the age old mistake of blaming religous indoctrination as a pivotal reason for the conflict here”


    “I hate the fact that Religon is continuously and wrongly used as the so-called differential between the respective communities”

    Could you expand on that please?

    I struggle to see how you can downplay religions role in NI.

    The sorting process begins at primary school.

    From that point on you may have very little contact with ‘the other sort’ till around the age of 16, even if you live in a very mixed area.

    By the time you pop out of the system at the other end you have (in general) an outlook that reflects the background of the school.

    If the school is mainly Catholic, then there will be very few unionists, ergo, the graduate is more than likely to be nationalist.

    The fact that one may not believe in God is neither here or there,

    In my school the most hard core loyalists weren’t religious at all.

    My brothers and cousins all went to a mixed school, none of them joined the OO or a band. They are all ‘just about’ unionist in their outlook. A UI wouldn’t really phase them.

    I went to a state school and was a forerunner for today’s ‘flegtards’.

    Yes, it’s probably to do with being less intelligent than the rest of my family but the matter was compounded by ensuring that I never had to speak to a Catholic till I was 16.

    Had there been some one sitting beside me in class to advise me that they don’t plot to murder Protestants in GAA halls or that apparently the Catholic community were indeed justified in their complaints against Stormont in the late 60’s then I might not have seen them all as bunch of untamed wood-kerns waiting to slaughter me in my sleep.

    Or heaven forbid that there may have been a pretty Catholic girl in my class that I may have fancied which would have rendered redundant the worst insult you could extend to some one in my school; the Lundyesque label of ‘f*nian-licker’.

    But no, because of the apartheid that we have here I had to move to another country and hang around with Northern Irish Catholics there for over a decade before the penny dropped.

    Religion IS the main cause for the conflict.

    It at a stroke whittles down your list of potential friends in your area, what sports you are likely to play, what instruments you may play and in some instances your chances of obtaining a decent education.

    My wife is Catholic and there is NO chance of our kids going to a school where they are separated from other people in their district purely because of where they were christened.

    We’ll move abroad if we have to.

    I acknowledge that this will pretty much deny them access to some of the aspects of Irish culture that I was regrettably denied (and trying to compensate for now) but I’d rather have indifferent Anglo-Slav offspring than Slav-Gaelic-loving offspring who are reared separately from ‘the other sort’.

  • Scáth Shéamais

    Religion IS the main cause for the conflict.

    The conflict has nothing to do with religion, it’s just a convenient label. It isn’t about doctrinal issues, or to quote Richard Dawkins, “When an Ulster Protestant paramilitary murders a Catholic, he is not muttering to himself, ‘Take that, transubstantiationist, mariolatrous, incense-reeking bastard!'”

  • cynic2

    ‘Take that, transubstantiationist, mariolatrous, incense-reeking bastard!’”

    Not totally true. At one point didn’t we allegedly have a preacher who (Shades of Monty Python) used to bless Loyalist Weapons on their way to do Gods work.?

    Bring forth the Holy Hand Grenade and all that sort of thing